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Pronay Halder's tenacity comes to the fore in a resilient Indian performance!

12:31 AM EDT 10/14/18
China v India starting XI
The burly midfielder put in an impressive showing in the middle of the park in China....

In the build-up to India's historic away friendly against China, much of the discussion surrounding the make-up of Stephen Constantine's first XI centred on who might partner Pronay Halder in central midfield, with Rowllin Borges and Anirudh Thapa the names mentioned. 

The fact that there was no question marks in anybody's mind when it came to Halder was testament to the midfielder's growing importance within the India setup. And it came to the fore on Saturday as India kept a much-superior Chinese side, coached by the legendary Marcello Lippi, at bay for ninety minutes. 

Much of the credit for the 0-0 draw must go to the defence which was led ably by Sandesh Jhingan and the organisation that Stephen Constantine has drilled into the side. But Pronay Halder's performance in midfield was also a huge contributor to one of Indian football's best away results in a long time. 

There were spells of heavy dominance from the Chinese that India had to weather but whatever the Red Dragons threw at India from the wings, the defence handled very well. On occasions they were beaten, a stellar showing form Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and a stubborn display from the crossbar foiled China.

The Chinese midfielders rarely found time and space on the ball in India's final third and were forced to turn towards their wings, from where most of their attacks originated. And much of it was down to the constant harrying and hounding led by Halder with Thapa supporting him. 

The 25-year-old was not averse to imposing his physique on his opponents, flying into crunching tackles and establishing the fact they will not have an easy time going past him through the middle. 

The ATK midfielder's performance, especially in the initial phases, should have made it to clear to the Chinese that India were not here to just keel over for them, despite being ranked 21 spots lower. 

Halder's tenacity in midfield certainly made life easier for the defenders. Also, shining through was Halicharan Narzary who had a good game on the wings. He ran his heart out for the team, helping the full-backs when India were under pressure and providing an outlet on occasions the Blue Tigers ventured forward. 

The Kerala Blasters winger showed good tactical nous to understand when to stay back and when to attack. His immense energy levels also helped him carry out the role entrusted to him by Stephen Constantine. It also served a reminder as to why he stays ahead of the likes of Ashique Kuruniyan and Nikhil Poojari, who are more skilful on the ball, in the pecking order. 

However, at the other end of the spectrum was Udanta Singh who did not have a good game on the other flank. Blessed with pace, the Bengaluru FC star was expected to be a threat during counter-attacks. But he found very less joy on the wings and looked off his game, both defensively and attack-wise. 

His game-sense and decision making was very poor and it was no surprise to see him hauled off by the manager after an hour. The shot he blazed over from just inside the area after being slipped in by Narzary perhaps told the story of his match. 

It is high time the 21-year-old pulled his socks up and exert more of an influence in key games. He could very well take a leaf out of Narzary's and Halder's books.